24. The Survival Guide to Family

I spent the entirety of January and part of early February with my dear, dear family in Southern China and Singapore.

Through Christmas, New Year, Chinese New Year, rain, shine, humid climates and freezing temperatures, I stood by and weathered it all with my lovely grandparents and aunts and uncles to whom my entire winter vacation would not have been nearly as interesting and eye-opening as it was with them.

You must be wondering how I survived such an ordeal. As much as a vacation filled with home-cooked food, a complete lack of the need to even lift a finger to do mundane chores, and all the love and care (plus lots and lots and lots of red envelope money, only in China!) family give to one another, it is still people whom you maintain an eternal, inevitable love-hate relationship with.

So I am here to share with you my tips and tricks on surviving family through the jolly holidays.

Follow step-by-step, or risk a string of reprimands and days of misery and a longing to bury your head in the blankets and never see the light of day again.

When initially meeting said relatives, you are advised to do the following:

First. Pull out your hand, raise it to the level of your eyes and then move it from left to right then back again, then some more. That’s right. The first thing to do is to wave at those relatives which you haven’t seen since Christmas.

Then, practice the words ‘Hello’ silently. Make sure it sounds right, sounds sincere, sounds genuine. Then roll it off your tongue like honey. Follow by the words ‘long time no see! how are you?’.

In the meantime, make sure to move toward your relatives with your arms out, ready to bear hug the same words out of them.

After they can no longer breathe, you can release them and pull out those heavy, large gifts you’ve lugged all the way through the airport and its myriad of irritating procedures, to surprise those little cousins of yours. In addition, a few grown-up presents that were unnecessarily costly, for those grown-up relatives to happily receive.

In the days that follow your temporary resettlement into the house, take care not to forget these rules:

  1. Nod, smile and agree. There will be numerous occasions on which your older relatives will repeatedly tell you things that are either common sense or have been told to you untold amount of times. Things such as “be careful when you go out, there are many pickpocketers and thieves” or “don’t ever travel alone” or “don’t sleep too late, watch out for your health”, etc, etc. The best way to cut short these advice sessions is to just nod and agree with them.
  2. Don’t Interrupt. No matter how many times your grandmother has told you the same story about how you ran around butt-naked until you were 7 years old, don’t interrupt her and irritatingly tell her off. Just bare through it.
  3. Relish the Power. Perhaps you were like me, the oldest in the family. When you were young, you had all your relatives run around you and heed to your every command. But now that you are an adult, you have to deal with younger cousins. No need to fret. Savour the power you have over them. Instead of being frustrated at their inability to reason and their endless childish tactics, reign them in and bestow upon their your adultness. Once they see how grown-up you are, you can make them do whatever you please. Forget those house choirs you were enslaved to complete when you were young, now you can pass the duty down to those little piglets around you.
  4. Enjoy the Compliments. They will shower you with them. I promise you that. So collect these compliments and send them right back at your loved ones, even at your tiny cousins whom haven’t accomplished anything except being able to poo into the toilet instead of in their pants.
  5. Patience is Key. It will take an immeasurable amount of patience to withstand all the traditions, itty-gritty every day habits, the sitting around and acting like an appropriate grown person, and the formalities. Not to mention suppressing the incredible urge to hunt down and scream “bloody murder!” at your younger relatives for nearly destroying your laptop, stealing your phone, eating all your food and going through your stuff.
  6. Cherish the Time. Above all, don’t take for granted every minute, hour and day you get to spend with your loved ones. You never know when or if you will ever see them again, especially the older generation. Remember to help them out around the house, give them massages on their aching knees and back, sit down and talk to them for a while. You don’t have to do anything fancy like take them all out to dinner or bring home extravagant gifts. All they want is to have a little time with you, to look at your grown-up face, to rejoice in your achievements, and to love you. So no matter how infuriating and endlessly frustrating they can be at times, family is irreplaceable and once in a lifetime. You will not have the same set of people again in your next lifetime. So cherish them with all your heart.
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